Three journeys—to the western Mediterranean, Scotland and France—through the past twined with the present, from historian Robinson.
Robinson likes his trips to be leisurely paced—on foot, bike or slow boat, though he’s also well-acquainted with planes and buses—with frequent stops for a beer, to smell the roses and to get intimate with the past. The author says, “I feel something profound in places where tangible history survives to the present, as if by touching the walls I can transport myself across time.” History guides Robinson in two of these adventures—following Hannibal’s footsteps from Spain to southern Italy and Joan of Arc’s through France during her incandescent years battling the Burgundians. He braids a deep reading of their campaigns with his bright observations, adding broad slices of politics, history, geology, architecture and military history, as when he says, “The sacking of Saguntum was not just a casual act of violence perpetrated by a man who hated Rome, it was a coldly calculated strategic necessity.” The author also has fine eye for detail, remarking how, “White medieval stonework was blackened by time and weather, and copper roofs ran with a green patina.” In Scotland, Robinson strikes out upon moor and high ground, slips up to the Orkneys and spends time, uncharacteristically, in Edinburgh—he is not a fan of cities. The author freely admits to a fear of crowds and, for someone with wanderlust, he has a pleasingly comical ineptness with foreign languages—the French, not surprisingly, give him the most grief in that department. Perhaps it’s karmic retribution for all the hamburgers he ate in France, where he could have spent his admittedly meager euros at a local bistro instead.
Though he prefers to fly solo, the author’s curiosity and aptitude for history would make him a good road companion.